Lior Tanami decided to become a metal detectorist — yes, that’s a real term — 12 years ago while vacationing in Miami. He was with a group of friends on the beach when a woman lost a diamond ring worth tens of thousands of dollars. The frantic woman’s husband offered a large reward for its safe return, so Tanami and his friends began combing the sand until one of them found it.
Tanami spent several more months traveling, but as soon as he returned to Israel he purchased a metal detector. The first night he used it, he found a silver ring on the beach. The most valuable treasure he ever found was a 2.5-karat diamond ring. “It for sure belonged to a Russian,” he said, laughing. “Who else would wear that to the beach?”
On another occasion, Tanami was with a fellow detectorist at a beach on the Jaffa-Tel Aviv border and had not even had time to turn on his flashlight before his friend found an 8-gram gold ring. But that night would prove more lucrative for Tanami as he later unearthed a $14,000 Cartier watch.
The watch is the only find he has ever given away. Tanami makes a point of not gifting, selling or pawning any of the treasures he finds. Instead, he puts them all in a safe to bequeath to his two sons, Aviv, who is 4 and on the autism spectrum, and Itai, 9.
“I’m not always going to be here and I want to make sure they’re taken care of,” Tanami said. But that doesn’t prevent him from play-acting joke proposals to his wife with rings he finds in the sand.
His wife, San, a Nepalese woman, thought his metal detecting obsession was weird at first. “But then she came around, understanding that this is my passion,” he said.
“The feeling of discovering something buried is indescribable. It’s like a small child in the toy shop. It’s the same feeling.” — Lior Tanami
Tanami said the feeling of discovering something buried is “indescribable. It’s like a small child in the toy shop. It’s the same feeling.”
Tanami waxes poetic about the ocean’s role in treasure hunting. “The sea takes everything away and spits it all back out again,” he said. In the winter, he added, 80 percent of the time the Mediterranean is as still as a swimming pool. But for the other 20 percent, the tempestuous weather means enormous walls of waves simply slice away a thick layer of sand, revealing long-lost valuables. The sea sweeps them away and deposits them on other shores.
The strangest such deposit he encountered was a live grenade with the pin still in place. Tanami proudly displayed a photo of the weapon and said it likely came from a navy vessel offshore.
These days, Tanami metal detects twice weekly for at least five hours at a time or until he’s so dizzy from looking at the sand and bending over that he can’t see straight. When he first started, he would sometimes make the Israeli equivalent of $200 in one evening from monetary finds alone. But that’s no longer the case because, sadly for Tanami, the metal detection community has mushroomed.
“That’s the problem with Israel. There are too many Jewish heads. As soon as anyone gets wind of a good thing, everyone’s doing it,” he said.
Still, Tanami said he doesn’t do it for the money. He has a day job involving foreign workers.
“I do it because it’s fun,” he said. “And I love it.”